MT. ETNA, Italy – In observance of Earth Day, Marines and sailors with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa 14 hiked up Mt. Etna, April 26, 2014.
The Marines and sailors with the task force began their day in the early hours of the morning. They drove up to 5,770 feet and then began their journey up the largest active volcano in Europe. While hiking up Mt. Etna, the Marines stopped from time to time to enjoy the sights and the view.
The service members had three Italian tour guides to help them navigate through the trails, which at times became treacherous, and to give a little bit of natural and historical information about the volcano.
Although beautiful, the hike up the volcano was moderately challenging for some of the Marines. The service members were challenged by an increasingly smaller field of view due to cloud coverage, coupled with a decreasing amount of oxygen as they ascended the mountain.
“It was a great experience, getting out and seeing the natural side of Italy,” said Cpl. Nick Burke, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the task force’s administrative section. “It definitely worked the calves, walking over all the pebbles, rocks and ashes. It was kind of like walking on a beach.”
Burke says the first 10-20 minutes were the hardest because that was when the troops were moving the fastest while climbing the steepest part of their trek. He added that as they got higher in altitude, it became more difficult to breathe.
“I think it was a good experience for the Marines because we all work long hours out here,” said Burke, a native of Flemington, New Jersey. “We got to go a good 20-30 miles [by car] and sight-see along the way. It helped the Marines unwind and relax a bit.”
Burke says he enjoyed getting to drive through the small towns on the way to the volcano and the scenic countryside views. One of his favorite parts about being deployed to Sicily is the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful natural landscape, he said.
The Marines and sailors hiked up and down hills at steep angles until they were about 500 feet higher than their starting point and then paused for a moment to enter a cave formed by lava after an eruption. They split up into groups of 10 in order to disturb the cave as little as possible.
While viewing the inside of the cave, the dark grey cloud that the service members had been walking through began to rain. Keeping true to the popular saying ‘In every clime and place’ the Marines and sailors continued their hike in the rain. They walked back down the volcano and then around to view a deep crater made on the side of the mountain.
Most of the troops were thankful for their seasoned Italian tour guides once it came time to navigate down the volcano with limited visibility.
Once the Marines and sailors had viewed the sights, they made their way back to their vehicles and drove back to Naval Air Station Sigonella. Upon returning, they came together and had a cook out, despite the rain, which continued through the end of the day.
At the end of the afternoon, laughter could be heard coming from their gazebo as they cooked burgers and hot dogs and talked about their experiences earlier that day.
Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa 14 is the newest rotation of Marines and sailors to arrive at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, to stage and prepare for theater security cooperation missions into various countries in Africa. This iteration is comprised of Marines and sailors from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, permanently based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.